Wednesday, March 26, 2014

South Africa - part 2

I noticed during my quick trip to South Africa was that while I clearly was not a tourist I could look at some things from a more ‘touristic’ point of view. Things that the locals have to live with every single day were things I could just look at and smile. Cause, you know, I don’t have to deal with the bad service, or terrible roads, or lack of common decency.  Also, I know for a fact that you can have the same experience in Belgium, or anywhere in the world for that matter. I just chose not to focus on those things.

The one thing that was totally unavoidable thought was the load shedding. Sure I had heard of it from everyone but this time I actually experienced it. Let me tell you, I can see why people get, to put it plainly, pissed off about it.

I have a very good friend Val who went to high school with me. We weren’t such great friends in high school but over the last couple of years we have kept in contact and email and call each other about once a week.  So, on the Wednesday we had agreed to meet up and he would buy me a nice lunch.

I took the very convenient Gautrain to Centurion where he picked me up.

The Gautrain is South Africa’s first high speed train connection between Pretoria and Johannesburg (including the airport). It has been operational since 8 June 2010.

It was quite funny to see the people on board’s reaction. Some of them were using it for the first time and taking photos and calling their fiends and family saying ‘guess where I am?’

A couple of them even asked me where they had to switch to get on to the airport line, at which point I had to tell them that it was also a first time for me. ‘Wow, are you loving it?’ ‘Well’ I had to reply, ‘I actually live in Europe so high speed trains are nothing new for me’. I did, however, mention how super impressed I was at how clean it all was. And it really was.

But I’m getting off topic.

So, my friend Val and his four boys picked me up outside the train station and took me for lunch to Irene farm. It was my first time there and I loved it! 

According to the boys this is not the most friendly of swans
My friend Val with his four boys

On the way there I noticed that none of the traffic lights were working … what’s that about I asked. Load shedding.

When we got to Irene farm we were told that they were without electricity and could offer us something to drink but no food.

The boys were happy enough with that and raced off to go explore while Val & I sat catching up. Finally the boys all came back saying they were starving and could we go get some pizza somewhere. No problem ... or wait problem … we needed to pay for the drinks but:

  1. no electricity meant no payments by card
  2. Val didn’t have cash on him … they usually don’t accept cash and he knows this cause they go there often

Not to worry, I had cash on me and managed to count out the exact amount (they also couldn’t give any change).

We decided to go try our luck at the Irene Mall. They also didn’t have any electricity but we were able to get some pizza for the kids and Val was able to get cash from one of the grocery stores.

Not even the cell phone towers were working which was really strange since they don’t need electricity.

My sister-in-law is a 5th year med-student and she said that the hospitals have generators but that they are used for essential services only. This meant that none of the electric door locks were working. She was on-call that night and they couldn’t lock the door of the on-call room or lock off any of the wards which usually are ‘locked down’.

As developed as South Africa is the cracks are starting to show. Load shedding like this is becoming quite the norm which is really worrying since the government doesn’t seem to be overly concerned about it.


  1. Sounds like a fun trip, but the load shedding would def. get annoying!!! Especially when there are things you don't really think about (like not being able to use your cards or make change) that would get annoying fast!

  2. That is crazy! I feel terrible because I've never heard of it before. How often do they do it? Do they get warnings or are they on a schedule or anything. I remember a few summers ago NY kept having brownouts, but I don't know that they were intentional. I just remember people complaining about not being able to use their air conditioning. I thought it was just because the power grid was overwhelmed. I should look into it more. They are always talking about how our power grid across the country needs to be updated, but nothing is ever done about it.

  3. What exactly does the term 'load shedding' mean? And why is this happening? (Sorry, I have very little knowledge of South Africa's government and economy.)

    How long does the electricity stay off for at a time? That's an awful situation to be in for hospitals, but also places like grocery stores and restaurants, not to mention people's homes!

  4. I'm surprised to hear about the load shedding. We call it rolling blackouts here in the states, and they are very rare. Americans are way too spoiled to put up with it…there would be a rebellion due to inconvenience!

    It makes you appreciate the little things we're so dependent on, like being able to order pizza for our family. Is load sharing common?

  5. I live in Canada and am suddenly feeling quite ignorant! I have to admit I had never heard of load shedding before reading your post. Although your day did sound simply wonderful (& I hope to ride one of those fab trains one day) I can see how the power outages could be very frustrating! Glad you had a chance to catch up with your friend and his super cute boys!

  6. I never even knew load shedding was a thing. How terribly inconvenient for everyone. No wonder people are pissed about it.

  7. I guess I'm not alone in being clueless what load shedding is, but I saw the comment above that it's the same as our power outages. In Southern California there were issues over power and the government and power companies wanted control. That's probably the closest experience I've had and luckily it wasn't too bad.